5 Questions with Martyna Majok

The 10th reading in our FORUM “Soundings” series is THE IRONBOUND by Martyna Majok. This reading will be begin at 7:00pm and will be held at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dreyfuss Theatre, 285 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ. Click here for directions. Click here for a printable map of the campus (the Dreyfuss Theatre is located in Building 9).

An immigrant woman waits for the bus after a long day. A man appears. A man always appears. And he has something to offer. Spanning 22 years and three different relationships, every scene is a little war between a man and a woman for their best version of security. What are two people willing to trade and how dirtily are they willing to fight for the cheapest safety in a world that does not value all kinds of people?

Martyna Majok was born in Bytom, Poland, and aged in Jersey and Chicago. Her plays include Mouse in a Jar (Red Tape Theatre, The LIDA Project), the friendship of her thighs(Jane Chambers Student Feminist Playwriting Prize, workshops at the claque, The Playwright and Director Center of Moscow, and The Kennedy Center), Petty Harbour (finalist for the 2012 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting, Vassar/NYSAF’s Powerhouse Festival and NYC Readings Series) and reWilding (Yale Cabaret, Satori Group, One Coast Collaboration). Martyna has been awarded the 2013 Smith Prize Commission (for The Ironbound), The Merage Fellowship for the American Dream, The Olga and Paul Menn Award in Playwriting, a Ragdale residency, The Howard Stein Scholarship for Playwriting, a nomination for the Cherry Lane Mentor Project, a commission from Walkabout Theatre, and publication of her short play, After Hours Stan, by Smith & Kraus. Martyna studied at The University of Chicago and the Yale School of Drama. She has taught playwriting at Wesleyan, The New Haven Co-Op High School, and New Jersey Repertory Company, in addition to assisting a class taught by her mentor, Paula Vogel, at Yale. Other projects include Prypiat, a musical about the modern day re-settlers of Chernobyl, a film, and devising a new play about women and disability with Marya Sea Kaminski. Martyna was the 2012-2013 NNPN playwright-in-residence and teaching artist at New Jersey Repertory Company and is a current member of Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Youngblood.  She lives in New York City. Martyna Majok

  1. Where did you get the inspiration for The Ironbound?

A combination of things. I was reading Slavoj Zizek’s “Violence” — which talks about capitalism and how abusive it is to view people based on their economic worth — while working a few low-paying jobs. And I was preparing to marry my now-husband — a decision based on happiness and love, not money. It’s a decision I’m happy with but it’s obviously been difficult to start a life together with very little money and no safety nets. And I know it’s not without its own problems marrying or being with someone for money, either. But what I’m interested in here is not coupling with someone for their huge wealth — I mean, sharing a bedroom with someone so they pay half the rent so you can help put your kids through school, footing your medical bill this time since you can’t, etc. And so I started thinking about the romantic decisions that I’ve witnessed or made in the past. What is debt in romantic relationships? If you’re seen as cheap labor in the world, how do you treat yourself in love? And, when you come from little money and safety, what is the risk of falling in love?

2. During 2012-2013, you are the NNPN playwright-in-residence at New Jersey Repertory Company. What is the best lesson learned from this experience?
How professional theatre works and which plays make the cut. The most important was discovering the lens through which some artistic directors consider plays and when and for what they take risks. It’s the same as with anything else. It’s as wide or as narrow as our own personal interests. Theatres want important and/or entertaining plays. Plays that are relevant to themselves and their audience. Plays with humanity. Or hilarity. And that, yes, if a famous actor wants in, your play will likely be produced. I also learned that connections are important but not what it’s all about. That you should write what matters to you above almost everything else and push yourself to go far with it. That the world is looking for authentic stories told with urgency and excitement. And that lots of playwrights are writing about rich couples encountering infertility problems. And two couples having a dinner party where a bunch of marital secrets leak out. Also, lots of pedophile plays. Strangely, I had to read lots of plays about pedophiles…

3. You are working on Prypiat, a musical about the modern day re-settlers of Chernobyl. What made you decide this medium for this topic?

When I was two, living in Poland, my teeth disintegrated because of exposure to Chernobyl radiation. They grew back — but they were super weak and would break often. I’ve had health problems from Chernobyl for most of my life. Because I was so young, I don’t remember much and I only learned about the whole experience when I was 22 — I just thought I had bad dental luck. So I became obsessed with Chernobyl and Pripyat, the town that was built basically to house the workers of the nuclear plant. The re-settlers and those that refused to leave this dangerous place were fascinating people to me. I knew I wanted to tell a huge, sweeping epic about them and insert into that world an outsider that we could relate to, an American who is escaping from the Peace Corps because he committed a crime in his host country. It had huge emotions to me and I wanted permission to go all the way. To me, that meant music. If you’re interested, here are some rough demos of songs (https://yaledrama.digication.com/martyna_majok/Lyrics). I’ve got a lot of work to do — I’ve never written a musical and this feels immense — but it means much to me.

4. You assisted teaching a playwriting class at Yale with your mentor, Paula Vogel (who received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play, How I Learned to Drive). Can you tell us what the experience taught you?

That teaching is wonderful. That was my first time teaching college, TA-ing for Paula at Yale. I later went on to teach my own course at Wesleyan (and a number of classes at NJRep last year). Watching Paula teach, I learned that you should always strive to give your all in the 2-3 hours you’ll have each week with your students. Your focus, your experience, your patience, your compassion. But particularly your focus. Paying real, devoted attention and endeavoring to deliver something truthful is your job. And it’s a great job. I remember she told me, when she first started teaching, she’d go home afterward and just crash on her bed. That was how I felt my first two years. It was exhilarating.

5. You said you were born in Bytom, Poland, and aged in Jersey and Chicago. Jersey is known for having some pretty good pizza, but then, Chicago, has deep dish. Which do you prefer and why?

Oh, man… I’m about to get some real hate no matter how I answer this. Okay. I gotta say it…. it’s Jersey for the win. I love Chicago in a real way — whenever I fly over the Hancock on my trips out to the West Coast, I get misty-eyed. But deep-dish is a pie. It is a pie with cheese. It is a thick-breaded, thick-cheesed, thick-sauced pie. If you drop it on your foot, it will hurt you. As for me, I like some crunch to my slice. And the cheese juice (you know what I’m talking about)…it’s just right on a good Jersey pie. Joe’s in Kearny? Forever in my heart. Nino’s in Harrison? No joke. A Jersey slice is childhood comfort food for me. And, for the record, Poland has horrific pizza. Order pierogi.

Playwrights Theatre will present these readings free of charge, with an optional donation of $10

♦ A $25 dollar donation will get you a FORUM pass that covers all of the readings.

♦ A $250 donation will get you a rehearsal pass that allows access to all reading rehearsals.

♦ Reservations can be made online at or call (973) 514-1787 X10

Click here to reserve your seat to see THE IRONBOUND
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You can also find additional information on our website about the entire FORUM reading series.